Giving voice to people’s angst

Ka sur u paidbah ka Bri u Hynniewtrep has stepped into conflict zones to find solutions to long-pending issues by bridging the people-power gap

Ka sur u paidbah ka Bri u Hynniewtrep in English means ‘voice of the people of seven huts’. The moniker, however, came into being as the group went through a transformation from being a relief body to an organisation with a long-term vision.

Formed during the lockdown by late Hispreaching Son Shylla, the group was initially christened Lung Jingtip (collection of information) and its primary purpose was to help local youths who were stranded in other states.

Lung Jingtip helped students and young professionals to come back home from Tamil Nadu, Gurgaon, Pune and several other states. In the beginning, Shylla helped the group fund flight tickets for students. Donations came in much later. “We had formed WhatsApp groups for different states and our respective volunteers would coordinate with all the students. Hence the name Lung Jingtip,” said member Ksan Kharumnuid, who runs a small business in Pynthor.

The group also supplied essentials and cash to quarantine centres in the rural areas of Khasi Hills, Ri Bhoi and Jaintia Hills.

With 250-strong members from all walks of life, the group wanted to do more for the society and the community. In the process, it took up conflicting issues which have been a constant source of discord not only politically but socio-economically too. The “like-minded” members, some of whom are active political workers, decided to plunge into the pursuit for solutions to all these issues and convince the political power to take note and expedite action. The Ka sur u paidbah ka Bri u Hynniewtrep was born.

The priority list of the organisation consists of four issues — the Assam-Meghalaya border conflict, inclusion of Khasi language in the Eighth Schedule, implementation of inner line permit and irregularities in issuance of ST certificates.

The Ka sur u paidbah has formed a seven-member committee on each issue headed by experts. “We call it Research and Working Committee. A lot of research is involved in the process because when handling each issue, we make sure we have all the information,” said Eugenstar Kurkalang, an advocate and former state president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha.

(Top) members of Ka sur u paidbah ka Bri u Hynniewtrep; ( from left) Ksan Kharumnuid, Eugenstar Kurkalang and Thomas Passah. (Photos by the organisation & MT)

Border conflict

The Assam-Meghalaya border dispute is over four-decade old and successive governments in both the states have found coming to a consensus a hard row to hoe. There are 12 areas of difference and Langpih in West Khasi Hills remains the centre point of the dispute. There are frequent reports of encroachment in the Ri Bhoi villages and Assam police’s high-handedness.

Kurkalang, who is the chairman of the committee on the border issue, said the problem has persisted for too long and “there has to be a solution”.

However, Ka sur u paidbah is moving slowly but steadily. The first step for the committee is to contact the heads of all the Khasi traditional institutions to trace out the original demarcations. “There are documents on some areas while others don’t. So we have to speak to the traditional heads to get a clear picture. It is pain-staking and time consuming,” said Kurkalang.

Simultaneously, the group members are interacting with the government and all political party heads. The first memorandum was submitted to the state Congress. The members have already met ministers Banteidor Lyngdoh (People’s Democratic Front) and Renikton Tongkhar (HSPDP), state Assembly Speaker Metbah Lyngdoh (United Democratic Party) and recently K. Phlastingwell Pangniang (HSPDP).

Banteidor had assured the members of the group that he would discuss the border and other issues raised by them with Chief Minister Conrad Sangma.

“The political representatives have shown their keenness to end this dispute once and for all. We want this to be solved amicably and peacefully and there should not be any violence,” Kurkalang said with earnest sincerity.

Language lag

The demand for inclusion of the Khasi and Garo languages in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution remains unfulfilled despite the state government passing a resolution in the Assembly in 2018. In Khasi Hills, the Khasi Authors’ Society is spearheading the movement for several years now. Ka sur u paidbah has taken up this issue because “we have rich culture and literature and the recognition is long due”.

The Ka sur u paidbah committee on Khasi language, which is currently headed by Prof. Streamlet Dkhar, sent a memorandum to MP Vincent Pala before the Lok Sabha elections last year. “But he informed us that he could not take up the issue in Parliament,” said Kurkalang.

Besides, the organisation is also emphasising the need for using Khasi and Garo as official languages. Despite the Meghalaya State Language Act, 2005, recognising Khasi and Garo as associate official languages, English remains the popular choice in government offices. Ka sur u paidbah wants to reform the practice.

The organisation also wants the state government to recognise Khasi Authors’ Society as an autonomous body and confer it the status equivalent to Sahitya Sabha.

Land & culture

The people of Meghalaya have always felt threatened by illegal migrants from neighbouring Assam and Bangladesh. Their fear is not only for losing land but also about losing their culture and tradition. To safeguard the tribal communities here, indigenous groups have, time and again, raised the issue of inner line permit (ILP) and requested, protested and threatened the government to implement the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations of 1873. The Citizenship Act opened up a new vent for protesters last year and a violent protest ensued. As the city reverberated with ‘Yes to ILP, No to CAA’ slogans, the state government wasted no time in passing a resolution on ILP during an emergency Assembly session at the end of last year. But the Centre is still dragging its feet on the resolution and the ongoing pandemic has halted all proceedings.

Headed by Kurkalang, the Ka sur u paidbah committee on inner line permit wants the government to implement the regulations to check influx of migrants. “But we do not want to do it through violence. We do not want to create fear psychosis in other communities,” said the chairman of the committee.

Kurkalang explained that the people of Meghalaya will not have a problem with outsiders doing business here if the inner line permit is in place. He pointed out that ILP registrations for all those who will enter the state will create a database of information and help police check smuggling of contraband substances. “It will also be a source of revenue for the state,” he added.

On whether tourism will be affected if ILP is implemented, both Kurkalang and Passah answered in the negative. “Sikkim is the most sought after tourism site in the country and it has ILP. So there is no way that one can argue that ILP will adversely affect tourism in Meghalaya. In fact, with ILP, the environment will be safe for the locals and tourists alike,” said Thomas Passah, a member.

According to Kurkalang, influx starts from central government transfers too. “If one person is transferred to Meghalaya, then his or her relatives will also come here and set up businesses through various means,” he explained.

Stealing identity

Irregularity in issuing scheduled tribe certificates is another recurring issue and Ka sur u paidbah wants proper vetting of the process. Passah, who is the chairman of the committee looking after this problem, said irregularities were in existence from 1975 and the Centre had notified about it. “But the misuse of ST certificate continues. People are changing their surnames to Khasi surnames for benefits and the government is sleeping on the issue instead of following the Centre’s notification in letter and spirit,” he added.

Passah admitted that there is corruption in the system that is allowing individuals with vested interest to take advantage and dilute the demography. The committee is in the process of preparing a list of names of people who have misused the ST certificate.

The members of the indigenous organisation say they want to be fully prepared before they table their final documents. But they are unanimous about one thing, and that is “solving the long-pending issues”.

On whether the members have enough confidence to pursue the problems till the end, Passah replied, “The government is of the people, for the people and by the people. ‘People’ are important and the 60 public representatives in the state are responsible to look after people’s issues. They should work hard enough to fulfil their aspirations. If the issues are not solved, then it is the MLAs’ failure. We are confident about our work.” ~NM